A Cork man who was told he would be waiting five-and-a-half years for cataract surgery in Ireland has seen “unbelievable” improvement after accessing the surgery in Spain in a matter of weeks.
On Late Breakfast this morning, William Coakley said he was “really struggling” before his surgery and was shocked when the HSE told him how long he would have to wait.
After contacting Healthcare Abroad, an Irish company that helps patients access healthcare in the EU, he was told he could have the surgery in Spain, with a waiting time of just six weeks.
“You book your own flight,” he said.
“They brought me to Alicante in Spain and they took care of me from there on. They had all the arrangements made for me.”
William said the whole experience cost him around €4,500 but he can reclaim it on his insurance.
Had he opted to go private in Ireland, it would have cost him at least €6,000.
He said the surgery has transformed his day-to-day life.
“The improvement is unbelievable,” he said. “Unbelievable.”
“My vision has improved I would say a minimum of 100%. I was really struggling prior to the operation.”
The hospital in Dénia Alicante opened last summer and aims to carry out around 1,500 treatments a year on Irish patients stuck on waiting lists.
Irish people can access healthcare in Spain under the EU Cross-Border Directive.
Under the directive, patients pay for their treatment in the EU and are then reimbursed by the HSE.
Travel costs are not refunded.
The treatments are available as part of an agreement between Irish company Healthcare Abroad and the Hospital Clinica Benidorm (HCB) group.
Donegal man Bernard Mclaughlin also used the service after being told he would have to wait at least three or four years for surgery on his knee.
“My knee was in such a state that I just couldn’t manage to get around anymore,” he said.
“The local hospital here in Letterkenny had a waiting list of three to four years minimum.
“Then when I tried the private route - I actually have VHI insurance and the closest hospital to me was a private hospital in County Derry - I was told that my VHI plan would only cover 60%.
“That meant I would still have to fork out in the region of £8,000.”
After contacting the company, Bernard was told he could have the surgery the following week if he travelled to Spain.
“The way it works is, if you are on a waiting list in Ireland, Healthcare Abroad takes on your case and does absolutely everything for you,” he said.
“I got a phone call to be in Dublin. I booked the flights obviously myself and they booked my hotel in Spain.
“When I arrived in Dublin, there was a representative there in the airport in Dublin who told me where to meet this individual who took me on a wheelchair and whisked me through check-in and security and everything and brought me right to the gate.
“When the flight was about to go, they wheeled me on the plane and the same thing then when I got to Alicante, there was a rep there as well with a wheelchair.”
He said his surgeon had 40 year's experience and the operation was “unbelievable”.
“To be very honest with you, I’ve had no pain whatsoever since the day I had it," he said.
“Obviously I was on strong medications for the first couple of days but afterwards everything went really well, with no problem whatsoever.”
Five weeks later and he is recovering well.
“I’m over the worst of it,” he said. “I’m out walking here in Donegal on the beautiful beaches now again.
“I’m a little bit slow but I’m getting there. In another month or so, I hope to be back on the golf course again.”